I’m the eldest of three daughters in a medical family. With a urogynecologist and primary care doctor as parents, I grew up thinking it was normal to talk about all topics of women’s health around the dinner table, from menstruation to pregnancy to menopause. As a teen though, it was admittedly embarrassing to have parents host these stigma-free dialogues in front of my peers. I was envious that their parental conversations never involved the phrase “during my urogynecology rotation.”

In my later teenage years, my female friends sought my parents’ trusted guidance on their most intimate health issues. The fact they continued to do so into my adult life was not lost on me. These experiences highlighted for me the gaps in women’s health, and women’s rights overall. Eventually, they shaped my trajectory to become a founder in the menopause space.

After working for three decades in international development, big tech at Google, government service in the Obama administration, and on the founding team of the healthcare startup Cityblock Health, I watched fertility and pregnancy companies enter the digital health scene. It was a serendipitous time as I wanted to follow my own entrepreneurial path into healthcare. I wondered what would be possible if we thought about women’s health more expansively and holistically, beyond avoiding or achieving pregnancy.

I entered the Blavatnik Fellowship in Life Science Entrepreneurship in 2021 as the co-founder and COO of Elektra Health to focus on smashing the menopause taboo. Together with my co-founder Alessandra Henderson and founding physician Dr. Anna Barbieri, an OB/GYN specializing in menopause, we began building Elektra Health as a digital health platform to address the myriad needs of women navigating the menopause transition with access to evidence-based virtual care, education, and community.

Applying a lesson from my MBA days, I knew going digital meant needing data. In our world of information overload, it was disheartening to discover so little menopause research had been done. Elektra Health, not afraid to shout the “M” word, was positioned to become a leader and advocate for women by commissioning a study to better understand the experience of working professionals experiencing menopause. Our 2022 Menopause in the Workplace survey included 2,000 female professionals between the ages of 40-55 across the United States (U.S.), including different racial and ethnic groups. The report showed that a lack of support from employers and health plans is negatively affecting women at the height of their careers. Women find themselves in a unique bind just as they ascend to the peak of their professional lives. Often already overwhelmed as caregivers themselves, the added burden of the menopause transition can push women out of the workforce completely.

Women described their struggles to manage their hormonal health, the lack of care, treatment, and support from their existing providers, and a sense of isolation — all reaching a crescendo at a time when the burdens of their professional and family lives felt heaviest. This topic, which might have seemed esoteric at first blush, is wildly relevant for the HBS community dedicated to building, leading, and managing effective and sustainable organizations.

But what can leaders, entrepreneurs, investors, etc. do to give the female workforce the tools to thrive during this important health journey?

Let’s start with education: what is menopause, and how does it show up in the workplace?

Right now in the U.S., at least 50 million women are entering menopause, the single moment in time 12 months after a woman's last period. About 2 million additional women will encounter it every single year. Culturally, we refer to the years before (perimenopause), during (menopause), and after (post-menopause) this one moment as the menopause transition.

Everyone knows someone undergoing this dramatic and sudden change to their monthly menstrual cycle, in addition to suffering disruptive symptoms like hot flashes, brain fog, and insomnia to name a few. Despite its prevalence amongst women and as a part of their lifespan (women spend a third to half of their lives in a post-menopausal state), it is still considered a taboo subject, tied up in ageism, and sexism, among other “isms.”

The menopause taboo is especially damaging in the workplace. Even though millions of American women are in menopause right now, experiencing a similar constellation of physiological and emotional changes, they predominantly feel isolated and too often, ashamed. They don’t feel comfortable in the workplace or supported by their employers.

Elektra’s Menopause in the Workplace report found that 40% of women feel their menopausal health and wellness is overlooked by their employer. One in five women report having left or considered leaving a job because of their menopause symptoms. Women are vital to the U.S. workforce, and the Great Resignation saw the already slim ranks of women in corporate leadership drop precipitously.

Menopause isn’t to blame, to be sure, but we should do whatever we can to address common obstacles to women thriving at work so they can continue in their careers, leading teams and organizations to new heights. Consider these few names from Fortune’s Most Powerful Women list: Walgreens’ Rosalind Brewer, Citigroup’s Jane Fraser, Alphabet’s Ruth Porat – all women above the age of 50, which is typically a menopausal demographic. We need more leaders like these trailblazers from successive generations.

So, how do business leaders support saying the “M” word?

Both from a lens of retention and presenteeism, as well as supporting female employees, employers should support their employees’ health and well-being throughout every stage of their lives. This is as true of menopause as it is for fertility and pregnancy. The status quo where women do not feel supported or heard about their menopausal health concerns is unacceptable. Understanding the needs of employees and offering them tailored, appropriate benefits and support can make a world of difference in the workforce, company culture, and our society, overall.

1) Offer menopause-inclusive healthcare benefits

A majority of women surveyed stated that they would find menopause support helpful from their employer (62%) and health insurance carriers (73%). Yet, most U.S. workplaces – unlike their British counterparts – do not offer benefits specifically geared towards menopause. This is exactly the gap that Elektra Health is filling on behalf of its enterprise customers. Having accessible menopause-specific support could be the thing that stops a woman from leaving her job.

In a post-Dobbs world, companies must be ever more thoughtful about how they support women’s health throughout their lifespan. This is especially true in abortion access, but it also shines a light on how companies are supporting women in every phase of their working lives. It means she gets ongoing, expert support that addresses her specific needs. Workplaces often (but not always, unfortunately) offer this kind of support when it comes to maternity care but falls short of extending these benefits to older women. Pregnancy is just one part of women’s health, yet it’s still the only part we feel comfortable talking about. Menopause deserves the same healthcare offerings.

2) Offer education, resources, and support

One of the most important resources employers can offer their workforce, menopausal or not, is education. Fostering a safe space for open conversation helps smash the taboo. Menopause is not shameful, and having an open dialogue about it, along with other women’s health issues, will help enforce that. From entry-level to the C-Suite, employees at all levels should have the opportunity to gain information and access evidence-based information related to their physical and emotional health and well-being.

Employee resource groups or affinity groups can be a powerful way to disseminate education while fostering a sense of belonging and community that can keep people connected despite increasingly remote and hybrid work environments. Whether this means starting one internally for the women within the company or advertising access to external groups, these groups offer women a community and a sense of connection, eliminating the highly common feeling of isolation. Finding a community that understands you and what you’re going through can mean the world.

3) Offer flexibility

An easy-to-implement but often overlooked act that many leaders can do to support their menopausal workforce is to offer flexibility. A remote or hybrid workplace gives women more opportunities to take breaks when experiencing symptoms. An adequate number of sick days or mental health days is beneficial for scheduling doctor’s appointments. When in the office, unlimited bathroom breaks, resting spaces, and freedom to personalize your workplace (i.e., having a fan on your desk) can significantly increase comfort levels. Small changes, like these, which can be made almost immediately and come at little to no cost can help determine whether or not a woman can stay in the workforce.

Ultimately, this conversation surrounding women’s health, especially for women in the menopausal demographic, is long overdue. And the historical aversion to addressing it has a cost to the female workforce and therefore, employers as well, even if this has yet to truly dawn on them. There is a global zeitgeist underway to empower and elevate women in their second half of life. Multinationals like Vodafone and Santander Bank are setting a new standard by creating meaningful benefits to support menopausal employees. The rest of us should catch up without delay.

About the author: Jannine Versi is the co-founder and COO of Elektra Health, an innovative women's health company. Elektra helps women navigate the menopause transition with access to evidence-based virtual care, education, and community. Jannine has spent her career in healthcare, technology, and government. She was on the founding team of Cityblock Health, a tech-driven healthcare provider focused on underserved communities that was incubated within Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs. She has held roles at Google and in the Obama Administration. Jannine earned her BA from the University of Pennsylvania, an MBA from HBS, a Fulbright Scholar, and a Blavatnik fellow in healthcare at HBS.